Tuesday, February 22, 2005

880 Slaves Freed in Sudan

After public pressure and a class action lawsuit, the Government of Sudan has released 880 slaves who were returned to their southern Sudanese homland where they are receiving aid from anti-slavery groups. Thousands more are still believed to be held in slavery.

A human rights group reported that the slaves had undergone a wide range of abuse.

Among the most widespread forms of abuse are beatings, death threats, work without pay, forced Islamization and Arabization, and racial and religious slurs. The majority of women and older girls said they were raped or gang-raped while in bondage. A minority of the females claim they were subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) -- a ritual that is the cultural norm for Baggara Arab women.

While some of the slaves worked in Arab cattle camps others were captured to work in the Sudan{s burgeoning oil industry. Several foreign oil companies, most notably Canada's Talisman Energy, lead the Sudanese government's oil operations, fueling slave raids and funding its war chest. After a divestment campaign against Talisman, modeled after the South African anti-apartheid divestment, many of the world's largest pension and investment funds divested from Talisman.

A class action lawsuit was files on November 8, 2001 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Talisman Energy, Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on behalf of Rev. John Sudan Gaduel and The Presbyterian Church of Sudan and three individual plaintiffs.

"The complaint charges Talisman with violations of international law for participating in the Sudanese Government's ethnic cleansing of Christian and other non-Muslim minorities in areas of southern Sudan where Talisman is exploring for oil", according to Carey R. D'Avino, a director of the American Anti-Slavery Group, and Stephen A. Whinston, attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The issue of Sudan has seemed to slip from the mainstream media's radar screen lately. As before the issue became visible, the ongoing antislavery work falls to the private human rights organizations which continue their work.


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